The Leistungsschutzrecht, a controversial German proposal that would force for-profit companies to pay for using short snippets of news content, passed its last legislative hurdle on Friday and will become law as soon as the president signs it.
As passed earlier this month in the lower house, the bill requires companies, like Google and Yahoo, to pay a license fee for the use of text produced by publishing companies, like newspaper websites. Search engines and news aggregators, the logic goes, do not generate their own original content but derive profit from the curations. Single words and short texts, a phrase still not defined in the law, are not affected.
Unsurprisingly, Google wasn’t pleased.
“We remain steadfast in our belief that economic partnerships—and not new laws—are the better path,” company spokesman Kay Oberbeck said in a statement.
According to the German news wire DPA, Peer Steinbrueck, the Social Democrat candidate for chancellor, promised that if he is elected in September, he would provide amendments to make a “new, more palatable law.” Matthi Bolte, a Green Party member in Duesseldorf, said he was saddened by the decision to continue with the law, while the Pirate Party called for a demonstration to protest, which only a handful of members apparently attended.
Two publishers’ associations, on the other hand, greeted the law, known as LSR, as the correct decision. They noted that the LSR makes it possible for newspapers and magazines to decide for themselves under which conditions search engines and aggregators may use the content for commercial purposes, they said, in German, in a joint press statement: “The information flow on the Internet will not be stopped. On the contrary: The law provides a fair basis of cooperation between publishers and aggregators so that both can benefit.”
At least three publications, Spiegel Online, Heise.de, and Golem.de, said they would continue to allow their news to be aggregated despite the new law. They said they liked having their stories linked to the outside world.
“You do not need any prior approvals for linking and we will not send you any bills,” Spiegel editors wrote in an open letter. “As always, we do not allow anyone to copy our stories in their entirety, or print large passages of text or photos without our permission.”
Since Friday, publishers’ groups in other EU countries, including Italy and Austria, have called on their governments to pass similar bills.
Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.